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How Indigenous Communities Are Decolonizing Childcare

Most childcare in tribal communities doesn’t reflect their values or traditions. A partnership between a childcare-focused CDFI and a native-owned organization is hoping to change that. 

By Bianca Gonzalez

According to Govinda Budrow, most childcare in tribal communities doesn’t reflect their values or traditions. “Policies, legislations, and boarding schools were imposed on people” in tribal areas, explains Budrow, who is a child development coordinator at Fond Du Lac tribal and community college. “Most of what we have in terms of caregiving are built on structures that don’t reflect our way of being.” Budrow is also a member of a group of community stakeholders called The Indigenous Core Team, a group of community stakeholders brought together by the First Children First Nations Child Care Collaborative (FCFN) to address just this problem. 

There are a number of reasons tribal communities have limited capacity when designing quality, culturally relevant childcare. For one, tribal count data only represent the population residing on reservations or other trusted lands even though 78% of the population lives outside of tribal statistical areas. This lack of accurate data makes it difficult for indigenous communities to evaluate their childcare needs. Intervention strategies from groups outside of tribal communities also often lack a cultural understanding of what appropriate childcare looks like. For example, "we don’t step over our children,”  Budrow says. “As women, we don’t step over their items, their clothes, their hats. People outside our community might ask why that’s a big deal if no one is around to see, but for us, it’s a centering of their life energy and it can make a child sick or not grow properly…  but that’s not a standard practice in most care situations and teaching situations.”  When there isn’t the capacity for a variety of types of childcare, “you start making decisions based on whatever is available to you,” Budrow says. “There are little movements of how we interact and care for children that are really substantially centered in who we are and how we remain strong, so it means a lot that we don’t have representation. Then we have to make concessions on whether or not we’re going to have to educate a whole system.”

To tackle the issue, childcare-focused CDFI First Children’s Finance partnered with Indigenous Visioning, a native-owned organization that empowers tribal communities, to create the FCFN. FCFN is designed to empower tribal communities and native nations to increase the availability and diversity of culturally relevant childcare services. They engaged community leaders and stakeholders like Govinda to form the Indigenous Core Team, which is working to determine the size, scope and context of their communities’ childcare needs.

While tribal communities have unique challenges and barriers when it comes to child care, Heidi Hagel Braid, chief program officer at CDFI First Children’s Finance (FCF) sees tribal systems as an opportunity to implement a solution faster. Compared to outside programs that would need to work through the bureaucratic levels of the state, county and city, tribal nations have more direct access to federal funding for programs. "They’re in this position to be leaders and create the system that they want and need,” Braid says. “To immediately impact families directly and faster with fewer miles of distance between the program level and the federal funding.” 

The Indigenous Core Team is gathering and recording information about childcare needs from indigenous communities through conversations and cultural responsive surveys. The hope is that as members of the communities they’re researching, they’ll be able to gather better data than what has historically been available.  “From a historical trauma perspective, tribes are not always trusting of entities that come into their communities,” says Barb Fabre, chief executive officer at Indigenous Visioning. To that end, the partnership prioritizes building trust and keeping the community in a position of authority on the project. Tribes gave the partnership permission to work in and gather information from their community. It helps that Indigenous Visioning is tribal, and people are familiar with FCF, who does work around the state,” Fabre says. 

FCF has been supporting efforts by offering education on the childcare business model and access to capital as a CDFI. “[Childcare is a] critical part of the regional and local economy so communities that are investing in early education see those returns in the long term,” Braid says “When everyone in that community can access high-quality childcare and early education, everyone wins. Businesses, employers, parents and children all win when people can live and work in a community.” The partnership has already allowed community members to design solutions that are custom to their needs and standards. For example, while the state only requires six hours of training to become a childcare provider, tribal licensing requires 18 hours of training plus CPR and first-aid training, as well as additional cultural education. “When the child is in care, they’re with their teacher more waking hours than the parent. It’s critical that the teachers are an extension of the home,” Fabre says, “that they look like us and talk like us.” 
This story is part of our series, CDFI Futures, which explores the community development finance industry through the lenses of equity, public policy and inclusive community development. The series is developed in partnership with Next City.